Correspondence - The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine

Correspondence - The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine



In the winter 2000 issue, we printed a case report of an unusual

clinical course of a brain tumor in a 3-month-old girl

who had several operations and who also had ministrations

from a Russian faith healer who was featured on a TV magazine

show. We asked our readers to present a rational or

more mundane and scientific explanation than intercession by

a faith healer.

Dr Sandweiss’s was the only entry in the race, and yet he

found the one clue that led to the more prosaic reason: the fact

that the tumor had shown signs of regression and necrosis before

the faith healing began. Other reasons he presents are

more speculative, may not be necessary, and may even

weaken his case.

Cancer cells die and tumors necrose for a variety of reasons.

So-called spontaneous remissions, better called “unexplained

regressions,” are examples of a natural, final common

pathway in the natural history of some treated and untreated



Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine attributing an

apparent cure of glioblastoma multiforme to psychic

healing. 1 The medical history of this child is consistent

with anomalous improvement. Anomalous improvement

refers to the clinical course of treated or untreated

disease that is significantly more favorable than historical

patterns. Anomalous improvement of rapidly fatal

malignant disease covers a spectrum of disease progression

that includes: slowed progression, stability, regression

with persistence, remission with recurrence, and

remission with apparent cure. The patient under discussion

falls into the last category.

Hirshberg et al. have described cases of “remarkable

recovery” from malignant disease that coincided with

serious infections and/or fever. 2 Coley noted that the

administration of bacterial toxins had a favorable influence

on the course of some patients with sarcoma. 3 It has

been suggested that patients with lung cancer who develop

an empyema after pneumonectomy have improved

survival. 4 Perhaps certain infectious processes or high


fever might favorably influence tumor progression. Is the

patient under discussion an example?

In October 1994 the patient “developed a severe illness

of high fever and lethargy.” Subsequently, in February

1995, the neurosurgeon expressed surprise that the

tumor had not progressed more rapidly during the previous

4 or 5 months. Three months later “whitishcreamy

material, containing many WBCs but no bacteria”

was aspirated from the right frontal area. In June

1995 (1 month later) she was found to have “a fibrotic

mass adherent to tumor” and “a thick fibrotic wall

around the tumor islands.” Was this intense inflammatory

reaction in response to an infectious process or to

the tumor itself? It certainly seems to have had a favorable

influence in containing the tumor.

It is possible that psychosocial factors favorably influence

progression of malignant disease. Hirshberg describes

spontaneous cures of cancer that have been anecdotally

associated with highly supportive caregivers,

positive outlook, and the use of nonconventional

methods such as meditation. 2 Studies have suggested

that patients with breast cancer can experience a therapeutic

benefit by manipulating the psychosocial environment.

5 Some authors propose that psychosocial factors

associated with religiosity improve health

outcomes. 6 Mechanisms have been postulated, but are

unproven. Presumably, these effects are mediated by the

autonomic, neuroendocrine, and/or immune systems.

This patient’s improvement actually seemed to begin

several months prior to the encounter with the Russian

“energy” healer. She continued to improve after these

sessions began. Whether this improvement represents

coincidence or a favorable therapeutic intervention is

unknown. Certainly, one does not need to invoke paranormal

forces or energies to explain a benefit.

What is clear is that anomalous cures of malignant

disease, although rare, do occur. 7 The factors that produce

these unusual cures, including that of the patient

under discussion, are unknown. The phenomenon is

worthy of further study.


1. Koopman B. Psychic healing of a case of glioblastoma

multiforme in a three-month-old infant. Sci Rev Alt Med.


2. Hirshberg C, Barasch MI. Remarkable Recovery. New

York, NY: Riverhead Books; 1995.



3. Starnes WB. Coley’s toxins, tumor necrosis factor and

cancer research: a historical perspective. Pharmacol Ther. 1994;


4. Ruckdeschel JC, Codish SD, Stranhan A, Mckneally

MF. Postoperative empyema improves survival in lung cancer.

Documentation and analysis of a natural experiment. N Engl

J Med. 1972;287:1013–1017.

5. Spiegel D, Bloom JR, Kraemer H, Gottheil E. Effect of

psychosocial treatment on survival of patients with metastatic

breast cancer. Lancet. 1989;2(8668):888–891.

6. Koenig H. Exploring links between religion/spirituality

and health. Sci Rev Alt Med. 1999;3(1):52–55.

7. Sperduto P, Vaezy A, Bridgman A, Wilkie L. Spontaneous

regression of squamous cell lung carcinoma with adrenal

metastasis. Chest. 1988;94(4):887–889.


Bonita, California



FTC Cracks Down on Marketers of Bogus Bioterrorism Defense Products

The Federal Trade Commission in November warned

Web site operators who suggest using such things as

oregano oil or zinc mineral water to treat illnesses like

anthrax that it is aware of no scientific proof for such

claims and that the Web site operators must remove

them from the Internet. After a coordinated Internet

“surf” found sites touting products and therapies that

claim to prevent, treat, or cure anthrax, smallpox, and

other health hazards, the FTC sent about 40 e-mail

warnings telling operators of these sites to pull the information

immediately. The FTC staff will follow up by

revisiting the targeted sites to determine whether the

changes have been made. Operators who continue to

make deceptive or misleading claims face possible prosecution

for violating the Federal Trade Commission Act

(FTC Act).

The warning campaign is based on information

gathered via a coordinated Internet surf by the FTC with

the help of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),

more than 30 state attorneys general, and the California

Department of Health Services. The Internet search focused

on products claiming to protect against, detect,

prevent, or treat biological and chemical agents, including

anthrax. More than 200 sites marketing bioterrorism-related

products were uncovered, and additional

sites are being evaluated for possible warning letters. Included

in the review were such items as gas masks and

protective suits; mail sterilizers; biohazard test kits;

homeopathic remedies; and dietary supplements such as

colloidal silver, zinc mineral water, thyme, and oregano

oil as treatments for contamination by biological agents.

Web sites may be subject to state or federal investigation

or prosecution for making deceptive or misleading marketing

claims that their products can protect against,

detect, prevent, or treat biological or chemical contamination.

“This marketing targets people worried about

the prospect of exposure to lethal biological or chemical

weapons. The FTC is aware of no scientific basis for any

of the self-treatment alternatives being marketed on the

Internet,” said Howard Beales, director of the FTC’s Bureau

of Consumer Protection. “Essentially, these operators

need to shut down these areas of their sites or face

prosecution. Our best advice for consumers: Consult

your physician immediately if you believe you may have

been exposed to anthrax or any other biological agents.”

Beales praised the coordinated effort by the various surf

participants, noting that “this should help put an early

end to misleading marketing attempts that prey on

people’s fears of anthrax, smallpox, or any other biological

or chemical threats. Where necessary, we will pursue

legal action vigorously or promptly.”

John Taylor, the FDA’s director of the Office of Enforcement,

noted that the FDA has approved a limited

number of products for the treatment of anthrax, including

Ciprofloxacin (Cipro), doxycycline, and penicillin

G procaine. “However,” he added, “there are no

products marketed as dietary supplements that have

been proven safe or effective for the treatment or prevention

of anthrax. Together with the FTC, we’ve found

quite a number of disturbing sites. Companies marketing

unapproved or otherwise misbranded products for anthrax

or other diseases run a very high risk of FDA enforcement

or regulatory action.”

In addition, a broad coalition of trade associations

representing the dietary supplement industry has indicated

that there is no scientific basis for the promotion

of dietary supplements for the treatment of anthrax.

Firms or individuals who violate the FTC Act could

be subject to a federal district court injunction, enforceable

through civil or criminal contempt proceedings; or

an administrative cease and desist order, enforceable

through civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.

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